In the November number of the Atlantic Monthly there is a story by Charles W. Chestnutt; entitled, The Bouquet. The scene is laid in North Carolina. Miss Mary Myrover is the white teacher of a negro school, and wears her life out in that self-denying service. But she wins the affection of one little colored girl, Sophie. Mrs. Myrover, Miss Mary's mother, is intensely prejudiced against the negro race. When her daughter dies, she forbids the house to any of the colored people. The child follows the funeral train, is kept out of the church and is met at the cemetery gate by a stern Notice: This cemetery is for white people only. Others please keep out. So poor little Sophie, debarred the privilege of laying her bouquet of flowers upon the her benefactress' grave, commits that task to a little dog, and watches the faithful brute with envy as he lies down beside the new-made mound. The story is a very pathetic one and the moral is that even the common sorrow of death cannot conquer the race prejudice of the southerners.
So much for fiction. Now for fact. The scene is not only laid in North Carolina by admission but in Fayetteville by description. Mary Myrover is a Fayetteville name. St. John's Episcopal church is a Fayetteville institution and is minutely described, except that it does not date from colonial times. There are several local touches, such as the profusion of flowers, the funeral customs, that remind an old inhabitant of Fayetteville. The old inhabitant desires to record a few facts.
The first service he conducted was that of an old colored woman, a member of the white Presbyterian church. The church was crowded. The middle seats were given up to the colored people and white people took the side pews and the gallery.
Mr. Chestnutt says that the right which the colored people claimed to teach their own schools was denied them. As a matter of fact, the colored graded school was entirely managed by colored teachers and received a larger appropriation than the white graded school, the white people paying nine-tenths of the taxes. Mr. Chestnutt speaks of the colored people being denied access to the house of mourning and even to the galleries of the church during the funeral. One who has buried many dead in Fayetteville, including his own, may be permitted to testify to the fact that the sympathy of the colored people was always tendered and gratefully accepted and that there was not a single burial of the dead in which they did not occupy the galleries of the church and throng around the grave. We have seen a funeral in St. John's church that of the sainted Dr. Huske, in which colored friends were given a place in the body of the church. At weddings also the colored people packed the galleries. Mr. Chestnutt says that Miss Myrover had not been brought up to speak to negroes in the street. That is so ridiculous that it needs no denial. No southern lady would refuse to speak to a colored child on the street.
The fictitious sign at the cemetery is peculiarly incongruous as it would have kept every funeral train out of that particular cemetery. The undertaker who received the patronage of the best people in Fayetteville is a colored man, who has won the respect of the community by his delicacy and tact as well as his faithfulness in the discharge of his duties. A New England minister once visited our home, and we asked him if a colored undertaker and a white should compete for the patronage of the people in a New England town which would get it. He candidly confessed that the white man would get it all. We told him that it was just the other way in the city which he was visiting.
Fiction and Fact. But the fiction has already been given currency in a popular magazine, and the pious have crossed themselves at the sin, and the sentimental have wept at the pathos and all have condemned the prejudiced south. While the facts will reach those who already know them and not a single one of our esteemed northern contemporaries will use them to correct the false impression that the fiction has produced.-Presbyterian Standard, Charlotte.
Anon. "Fiction and Fact." The Wilmington Messenger, (Jan. 28, 1900): 7.